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Perhaps you love to read and want to pass this passion along to your children. Or maybe you’ve heard that it’s important to read to your young children, but aren’t exactly sure what that should look like.

Whatever the reason, you’re interested in reading to your baby, but need more information. Allow us to help!

We know it can be overwhelming trying to figure out the best ways to enhance your baby’s development.

So, we’ve gathered the research about reading to very young children and gotten to the heart of what matters most to you: when to read, what to read, and how to do it so it’ll be most beneficial.

Now all you have to do is keep reading below…

It’s never too early to start reading to your baby! Even before your baby is born, they may respond to familiar voices, according to clinical research (though, admittedly some study results are mixed).

So if reading to your belly seems like a good time, go for it. Of course, it’s also completely OK to wait for some face-to-face time before you break out the books.

Then again, once they’re born, there’s a lot going on while you’re figuring out feeds and sleep and navigating the emotions of new parenthood. So while you can start making reading a part of your day as soon as you’re ready, this is a time to let go of guilt if it’s just not happening.

If you’re game to start by the time they’re around 4 months of age, you’ll increase the chances of making it a regular habit you’ll both enjoy, say the experts at Zero to Three.

How long sessions last and how much reading happens during each day will really depend on the age of your child and factors like that day’s schedule.

By the time your baby is school aged you might spend 30 minutes or more at a time reading, but for a newborn it may only be a minute or two each day.

Don’t give up hope if it seems like you only get through one or two pages at a session: Many short sessions in a day can add up and continued practice with reading will encourage your baby’s attention span to grow!

Young babies will benefit most from books with simple, bold images that involve strong contrasts. There’s no requirement for words on the pages. You can verbally describe the images, point out different features of pictures, and simply talk to your baby as you explore the book together.

Trying to find time to squeeze some reading into your busy days? A great way to incorporate books into your baby’s day is making it part of their bedtime routine. You can also read books together before naps. A book tucked into the diaper bag can be a lifesaver if you’re stuck waiting somewhere, too.

While your baby may only initially have the attention span to explore a couple of pages with you, over time their ability to engage with books will expand. Frequent shorter sessions with books are appropriate for babies.

There are lots of books, so it can be easy to find yourself feeling overwhelmed trying to choose what to read or purchase. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple and stick to a few favorites. It makes sense to read books that are familiar, like nursery rhymes, so you can keep most of your focus on your baby.

As far as type of book, sturdy books made from cardboard, fabric, or vinyl tend to hold up best to babies’ mouths. And yes, they’ll want to mouth the books, so you may want to stick to your own collection instead of the library for now.

As your baby gets a little older and starts to approach their first birthday, you may want to pick books that include very simple phrases or lines of text on the pages.

Children this age are frequently interested in books that show other children and families doing everyday things. They also enjoy books about animals and things of personal interest like cars, construction equipment, and princesses.

Because your child’s eyesight has improved by this point, they’ll most likely appreciate detailed pictures that bring to life the simple story.

As your baby starts to babble and “talk,” it can be a lot of fun to incorporate their voice into reading time. For example, point out the cow on the page and encourage them to try their best “moooo” like the cow.

If your child isn’t really verbal yet, encourage them to move their hand to touch certain objects on the page or help to turn the pages.

Kids between 13 months and 36 months enjoy books that include a lot of action, pictures, and familiar characters. You’ll probably want to steer away from books with lots of words on the pages as their attention span is still growing.

Repetition is important for toddlers, so you’ll want to look for books that include repeating phrases. (Bonus points for rhyming or singing!) While reading these books to your young one, you can occasionally pause to see if your little one can finish the phrase without your help.

Something else that’s fun to do with your toddler while you read? Pointing out connections between your child and the characters in the story. (E.g., “Milo has a baby sister, and so do you! Milo helps feed his sister. You love to do that, too!”)

While it’s fine to use start using paper books with your toddler, you’ll want to work on helping your little one learn how to treat books. There may be some ripped pages or coloring mishaps, but it’s all part of the process of learning to love books.

If something is a keepsake that you don’t want damaged, keep it out of reach, but allow your toddler to have their own books easily accessible.

The list of benefits you and your little one get from your reading sessions is long. Some of the many benefits include:

Increased bonding

Research shows that reading books together can make children feel more secure. It also establishes positive associations with reading for them.

Greater vocabulary

The National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning points out that reading to your child increases not just the number of words they use, but also the variety. After all, when you read to your child, they come across words they might otherwise not hear or not hear as frequently.

A 2019 study estimated that children who were regularly read to in the years leading up to kindergarten are exposed to 1.4 million more words than those who do not have these regular reading sessions.

Introduction to concepts and ideas

Just as books can introduce words your child might not otherwise hear, they can also present concepts and ideas your baby might not otherwise come across in their daily life.

This can be useful as you prep them for new experiences, like going to the dentist or starting school. It can also help them learn about different cultures and people.

Advancing listening skills

Listening to stories can help increase comprehension skills and attention span. A study from 2013 showed that babies who were read to scored higher in language and problem-solving skills. A 2018 study indicated that these benefits continue long past infancy, too!

Emotional development

Through books, children can learn how to deal with situations and emotions. Books can offer a way to model appropriate behavior and help children to feel like they are not alone in their experiences.

Still wondering how you can make reading to your baby a successful experience? Consider these suggestions:

Act it out!

Make sure to read with a lot of emotion and don’t be scared to try out different voices for various characters. While it may feel silly, the more vocal variety you offer, the more exciting the story will become to your little one.

Think beyond books

Photo books, words on cereal boxes, traffic signs, magazines, the newspaper… it’s all fair game!

Interact with your child

Take the time to point out things in pictures and stop to discuss things from the book with your child while you’re reading. Depending on your child’s age and communication level, ask questions about the book while reading to gauge comprehension and keep your little one actively involved.

Provide easy access

Keep the books out and accessible to your child even when you’re not reading them aloud. This will give your little one the opportunity to interact with the book themselves, and you can learn what types of things they find most interesting to “read.”

Hit the library

Many libraries offer much more than just the opportunity to borrow books. Storytimes and fun literacy activities can also be found there for children of all ages.

Go old school

It can be tempting to use tablets and other electronic equipment for reading, but make sure that you and your children are getting your hands on the hard copy materials, too. Especially with young children, it’s recommended to limit the amount of screen time, even if you are using it for educational purposes.

Reading to your baby doesn’t have to be a complicated process! Even simple things like pointing out the words on signs or reading them the information on packaging will increase their vocabulary, listening skills, and comprehension.

Worried about where to start? Just start reading and pointing out the words you see all around you! Before you know it, reading together will be second nature.